Character development leads to self-awareness



Earlier this year, I stumbled across a questionnaire designed to help authors develop multi-faceted fictional characters. I thought it would be an interesting exercise in self-awareness to fill in the answers as though I were the character. A little self-awareness … what could possibly go wrong?

Some questions were easy:

“Does your character read and, if so, what genres/authors?” I like Shakespeare, William Faulkner and Raymond Chandler; my favorite author is Patrick McManus. I realize there is no common thread in this crazy quilt of preferences.

“What kind of music does your character like?” I like grunge, bluegrass and classical; I do not like rap, except Eminem. I am not even going to attempt to puzzle out the conundrum of why I prefer such disparate types of music.

“What is her favorite food?” Pizza, of course.

It was at that point that I went off script and started tweaking the questionnaire. A better question, I thought, would be “What is her go-to comfort food?”

Answer: potato chips and French onion dip.

This is where I went completely rogue. It was not enough to know my go-to comfort food is chips and dip. The real question is, why? Chips and dip seem like such a random choice; wouldn’t something like chocolate cake, or chocolate ice cream, or chocolate make more sense? Random … and weird.

For weeks, I fixated on solving this mystery. It had to be tied to some memory. The only thing I could come up with was that my grandmother always set out chips and dip before holiday dinners. Fond memories, but not the answer I was seeking.

I even tried thinking about it before I went to sleep, hoping my dreams would peel back the curtain of my subconscious. Nope.

Fast-forward to a couple months ago. Out of the blue, my mom commented, “I still feel bad about that time those dogs were fighting on Aunt Bessie’s porch. You probably don’t remember. You were only 3.”

Wow. I hadn’t thought about that in years. I absolutely remembered, in vivid detail.

I was on that porch with those dogs – big dogs – when they started fighting. I was wearing a yellow dress. I don’t know why that sticks in my mind. I was pinned against the railing and the dogs kept bashing into me. I was terrified they were going to turn on me. Then Uncle Carl reached over the railing and lifted me off the porch. He wiped away my tears and assured me that everything was going to be OK.

I remembered all those things, but the only thing I said to my mom was, “I remember that day. It was the first time I ever ate chips and dip.”

Light bulb! Mystery solved; actually, two mysteries, because it also explained why I was afraid of big dogs for so long. What a relief.

I rested well that night … for a minute. Then I started wondering what else I don’t know about myself. Why, as I kid, could I not go to sleep unless there was someone else awake in the house? Why must I always put my left shoe on first? Why do I sort my M&Ms before I eat them, and why am I the only one who knows the red ones taste better?

Lania Rocha is a reporter for the View Newspapers. Contact her at

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